A last minute attempt by Republicans in Georgia to pass an Arizona-style religious freedom bill failed Thursday, after the sponsor withdrew the proposal.
Georgia Republican State Senator Josh McKoon attempted to attach the measure to two unrelated bills in the state legislature, hoping to get the controversial measure passed on the last day of the session. McKoon said on Twitter that he had backed off after "opposition from large moneyed special interests."
"It's the exact same legislation that was going around the nation that [Arizona Republican Governor] Jan Brewer vetoed," said Bryan Long, executive director of the liberal advocacy group Better Georgia. "It would allow a business in Georgia not to serve anyone as long as they have a religious reason to do that."
The amendments, put forth by McKoon, are similar to legislation proposed by conservative state lawmakers across the country designed to make it easier to claim religious exemptions to laws that "substantially burden" religious belief. If a business refused to serve a customer for religious reasons or grant an employee certain benefits they might otherwise be eligible for, the proposal would also make it easier for the person to defend themselves in court by claiming that doing so would impair their ability to practice their faith. The proposals have been spurred in part by incidents in states where business owners have been unable to claim religious exemptions to state laws banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Georgia does not have a state law banning such discrimination.
After Brewer vetoed a similar bill in Arizona, and Georgia lawmakers got an earful from business groups in the state like Delta and Coca-Cola, the Georgia version of the legislation appeared to have been left for dead by Republican leaders in the House.
Pro-LGBT rights activists discovered Thursday that McKoon had added amendments to bills related to unemployment insurance, one of which would deny benefits to public school workers during the summer. As of Thursday evening however, McKoon had withdrawn his amendment from one bill and said that the other one was unlikely to come up.
Since this is the last day of the session, the proposal is dead for the year. It would have been the first such victory for religious conservatives, who have otherwise failed to get any such laws passed in nearly half a dozen states.
Ironically McKoon, the sponsor of the Georgia proposal, had introduced a separate bill in January that would have prevented lawmakers from voting on legislation introduced at the last minute.
“It winds up producing bad public policy,” McKoon said at the time.